We tend not to see food security in the headlines. Yet sustainable food systems underlie nearly every hot issue—from economy to foreign policy to health. Save for passing mentions at rhetoric-heavy Climate Change conferences, food systems remain in the shadows when it comes to everyday news.

Yet to many food advocates, researchers, farmers and workers, two hard numbers remain the serious fixation.

The first is 2050. The once far-flung year is suddenly within view.

The next is 9, or rather, 9 with 9 zeroes. That’s the number—9 billion—we’ll need to feed in 2050.

Far from some sci-fi fantasy, this is the massive problem at the core of humanity’s other crises.

You’ll hear from the UN that we produce enough food to feed every mouth. You might have heard that the waste, corruption, national squabbles and inefficient distribution systems our largest barriers to this goal.

Yet in the shadows, huge things have been happening. Here are three random food stories you should watch. Not only do I predict that each will grow immensely, creating huge waves when they do, they’re each connected to several other issues, representing the importance of food when it comes to climate, politics or economy.

Turbo Urban Growing & Open Source Planting

With the swell of urban populations and energy crises, urban veg growing has become something of the designer issue. Though many individuals boast of their container veg, few organizations have truly cracked the field wide open. In the end, urban food production, nice as it makes us feel, must increase its scale and efficiency hundreds of times to really be a factor in feeding urban populations.

In a recent Wired piece, one such game changing startup is mentioned. PlantLab has developed methods to (purportedly) increase production efficiency by 4000% while using 90% less water (which is the other big problem facing urban growing).

…it’s holding as proprietary secrets methods claimed to be 40 times more productive, using 90 per cent less water, for growing food that is ten times more nutritious.

Huge developments. Keep your eye out. Though the MIT folk who have been working on this issue say that the other thing to watch out for is the “joining up” of these solutions, in the open source fashion that created the Internet. If this type of cooperation happens, we could see disruption on the same scale.

“What we need,” they say, “is an open, joined-up approach to solving a significant global problem.”

Fish Farming Explosion

GMO salmon
Genetically modified salmon, made by AquaBounty, is one huge upcoming driver of fishfarming growth, not even accounted for in the massive growth mentioned in the article

The story that’s been passing us by lies underwater. Once again, while overfishing was the big issue of the end of the 20th century, the inefficiency of meat is the big issue of the 21st so far. Yet meanwhile, the FAO (UN Food & Agriculture Organization) has been tracking the rise of fish farming. Fish farming is simply the production of fish in controlled environments, the way agriculture did to plants and animals. Once the stuff of negative stories (ie salmon, etc.), fish farming is now simply the status quo.

It will be huge going forward. It’s the fastest growing food sector. Just pause and take that in. Considering this fact, when’s the last time you heard stories on fish farming?

Furthermore, next time you bite into some fish, consider that there’s more chance it’s farmed than caught by fishermen, even the trawler-types. The FAO tells us that it makes up

More than half the fish consumed in the world now comes from aquaculture, outpacing fish caught in the open ocean.

Furthermore, it’s made over 90 million tonnes in the past decades, making it the fastest growing food sector.

Veggie Cheerleading Has Sunk Us

We’re still eating too much meat. Yet the social factor of being omnivore might be destroying real progress. The food movement and social politics have led more and more in the US, say various new studies, to claim we’re curbing our meat eating.

In reality, we’ve hardly changed our meat consumption since the “food movement” and folk such as Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman made us aware of the wider impacts of eating meat, both ethically and environmentally. Here’s one quote from one researcher on National Public Radio:

In a nutshell, Americans’ meat-eating habits haven’t shifted much. “There’s no significant change in the number of times per week people eat meat in the last few years,” Mike Taylor, chief medical officer for Truven, tells us.

If anything, the social factor — and I don’t hold the ‘food movement’ blameless here — has led us to become “veggie cheerleaders.”

One more quote from researcher Roni Neff:

“We are still seeing a lot of people saying they are eating less meat, and a lot who want to eat less meat.”

I’d like to think that’s good.Though I fear it’s worse.

For if we “feel good” we usually don’t change. This is worth watching, given our rate of meat consumption is becoming less and less sustainable, certainly in light of 2050’s population numbers.

Now that world leaders and their negotiators have left Paris following the climate change pow-wow, the focus now shifts to the work needed to make a paper agreement hold together in practice.

Greenhouse gasses, overflowing landfills and destructive chemical waste pollute our atmosphere at unsustainable rates. That is clear. But while we put this pressure on governments and corporations to clean this up, shouldn’t we also ask ourselves what we can do, as individuals, to reduce our destructive environmental impact on the planet?

But I can’t point my finger at anyone else before shining the mirror on my own lifestyle. What I saw in reflection, was a small scale environmental disaster.

Facing this need to turn a new and greener leaf, I was inspired by a UK-based blogger, Joanna Yarrow, author of Beyond Green and the eye-catching philosophy on living an environmentally sustainable lifestyle.

“Sustainable living is a bit like teenage sex. Few are doing it, and fewer are doing it properly.”

Sustainable living revolves around a few simple principles, according to my research. Consume less, and waste less stuff. Consume less energy and other non-renewable resources. Reduce our environmental footprint in ways that may seem indirect, such as paying attention to the way we travel and the way our food travels to us.

With that as my inspiration, I tried to kickstart a new way of life that is kinder to the planet, albeit in an incremental way. Many advise trying out these drastic changes for the manageable period of one week. That’s hardly enough effort to reverse the impact of years of damage to the environment, but enough time to test some new waters.

The water that that would be poured over my enthusiasm on day one was cold. Starting the week with a cold shower made me realize that it might be a better to attempt the energy conservation part of my plan closer to summer. Still, I knew that I would still have to cut down on the leisurely long hot showers that I normally enjoyed, drastically limiting my shower time to a maximum two minutes and reducing the eight litres of water that this part of our morning routine dumps down the drain every minute.

As for eating, I was prepared for how this passion in my life would be affected more than anything else during the week. If only keeping a keener eye for locally produced products was the only issue I’d face, I could easily breeze through this. Discovering Montreal’s burgeoning organic food market, which makes better tasting food more widely available was a bonus. But organic food, which is produced without dangerous by-products which are washed back into the water table, was also more demanding on my strict budget. So I’d have to find other ways to reduce my food budget.

Image: archinect.com
Image: archinect.com

Reducing the consumption of meat not only saves money, but it brings reported health benefits and is more sustainable for the planet due to the way that the production of meat devours more of the earth’s scarce land and resources. But cutting out meat ‘cold turkey’ was a drastic move for a carnivore like me so I found ways to merely reduce my meat intake and some delicious ways to replace it a couple of times a week.

Certainly my fast food habit had to be broken, if only to conserve the mountains of paper, cardboard and plastic produced by the fast food chains which are the biggest contributor to street litter, according to one study, and is not always successfully recycled.

Another form of recycling is a boon to those of us who hate shopping: Use it pp, Wear it out, make it do or do say anti-consumption groups who believe that most of us are buying stuff we don’t actually need. The impulse shopping habit absorbs precious resources by producing products to fill demand for new stuff while filling landfills with older stuff that’s often still usable.

I spent some of that shopping time at home mending, repairing, and patching up things I would have replaced instead, like replacing my old pair of jeans with a new pair that would probably look just as worn out and patched up.

Fruitful explorations of Montreal’s second hand stores, like Notre Dame West’s Salvation Army, turned up lots of gems among the junk, including furniture and house wares that often look as good as new, with the most significant difference being the price tag.

Avoiding these shopping trips also allows us to cut down on the use of a car for short local trips. I rekindled my latent passion for bicycle riding while visiting second hand stores. The bargain bike I picked up for $50 only needed some air and the tightening of a few bolts to get on the road. But the onset of winter is not great timing for a rider to get back on a bike. The late onset of the snow has been a blessing, but an Opus card might still soon come in handy.

But back at home there were a few things to sort out to make a more sustainable home that will last beyond this week. Turning down the thermostat one barely noticeable degree in winter saves lots of energy and more money than you might think, according to Hydro Quebec.

An audit of my water use showed that one flush of my toilet whirls more water down my toilet drain than many families in some parts of the world use in one day. I discovered the handy online tip of filling a plastic container with water and placing it in the toilet which tricks it into thinking it is full, saving some 1325 litres a year, according to the New York Times.

Useful tricks like these, along with understanding the benefits of buying less and thinking more about what I eat were all part of a very interesting experiment. But would the benefits weigh up against the inconveniences well enough to make this new lifestyle permanent?

The effect on my budget was probably neutral. The food bills went up, but utilities bills, when they arrive, should shrink. Time and money was better spent away from the mall, and I noticed my garbage containers are less than half full. But some changes were easier to implement than others. Cold showers and veggie food come quickly to mind.

Perhaps the greatest ongoing effect of the week was the level of consciousness brought to the impact of almost everything that I do, and how that is related to a sustainable future on this planet. Even if my contribution is only a little bit for a little time. That’s a little bit that helps.

* Featured image by Andrew Seaman (Flickr/Creative Commons)

It’s taken decades for dumpster diving to nudge from the fringes to the mainstream. Hell, ten years ago, it wasn’t even the explicit goal of the practice.

When it was mentioned in the media, dumpster diving has always been something of a caricature: a bit part in stories of folk on society’s edge: the homeless, the penniless student, or the militant environmentalist.

Well, like local chicken and artisan popcorn, dumpster diving might have been bound to hit hipsterdom–or even possibly policy debates–once it got the prescient Portlandia’s treatment.

Pardon the pun: when it comes to vegetable-burdened garbage vehicles, 2014-15 has been the tipping point

From the reach of European Ugly Fruit & Veg campaigns to global glee when French banned supermarket waste.

The prominence of food waste might have reached the pinnacle last week: UN delegates were served a haute cuisine tasting menu of dumpster fare—prepared by elite American chefs, notably Dan Barber himself.

The delegates, including Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, munched on Landfill Salad, which, to quote the menu, consisted of:

  • vegetable scraps
  • rejected apples
  • …chickpea water

Next up, “BURGER & FRIES,” elegantly described in the roped menu: “off-grade vegetables, repurposed bread…cucumber scraps…”

The food was no doubt fascinating and faultlessly executed; witness:

“cocoa husk custard” dessert created with parts of cocoa beans usually discarded when making chocolate

Though food waste has long been a global crisis, its recent win seems due to piggybacking on something much more glamorous: climate change. Now that the two are finally seen as utterly inseparable issues, world leaders and mainstream media have a safe bet trumpeting the cause.

To what end?

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 11.27.55 PM

It’s hard to know if it’s too late, or if such events are anything more than fun food writer fodder. Certainly scholars and academics seemed markedly split. Some saw it as gimmicky or simply elitist, while others welcomed the PR for its far-flung benefits.

However we should be wary that it remains to be seen what really happens from this stunt.

European leaders, for example, who dined on Barber’s dumpster bites were likely unphased: they’ve been part of the swift sweep of the food waste over their political and industrial landscape—from the supermarket waste ban in EU debates to corporate responsibility measures in many of its largest supermarket chains.

Here in Canada, it’s much less obvious what effect—if any—such food waste celebrity status will have.

For someone small-minded like me, my mind goes to dumpsterized celebrity chef speculation. Who would be our nominee to stage similar recycled meals for Canadian leaders?

Perhpas Chuck Hughes digging through empty wine bottles in an Old Montréal alley, spinning out some renewed mullusk-shell bisque laced with dregs of private imports from his bacs de recyclage. Or a blazer-clad Mark McEwan scrubbing still-crisp carrots from the bins of his high-end Toronto store, repurposing them in day-old baguettes from his in-house bakery, all with a skeptical scowl.

Of course, none of this would happen here. If anything, we can hope for more events like Metro Vancouver’s mass free lunch of “rescued” food. In true low-key Canadian fashion, the 5000 people this event fed got one tenth the press ink of Chef Barber’s 20 precious plates.

Downplaying splashiness, however, goes hand in hand with Canada’s habit of downplaying food security altogether, to the point that we’re embarrassingly lagging behind other industrialized countries. Lest you jump to CPC-blaming, know that it’s far from just a diplomatic problem. It’s just as seriously a societal and cultural one. Old illusions of boundless natural resources and agricultural surpluses remain firm, not to mention the fact that most Canadians are urban-concentrated, downplaying rural and remote food crises: “out of sight, out of mind.”

Food Secure Canada, the leading umbrella group of scholars, advocates and policy coordinators when it comes to food issues, have been trying to hammer the severity of the issues for years.

With elections looming, it’s even more striking that the UN & Dan Barber style mega-attention on food waste remains mostly lacking here. Campaigns such as Eat, Think Vote, an initiative meant to bring citizens and their riding candidates together for a meal to discuss Canadian food issues, have helped nudge the issue forward, evidenced by some discussion at this Monday’s debate.

The nefarious effects of cosmetic produce took years longer to come to Canada after Europe, and even to this day, has trickled to market in frustratingly tentative fashion. My previous notes on the our slow-moving supermarket industry is helped by, for example Moisson Montréal’s widened food recuperation operations in Québec. Yet these are drops in the bucket, largely outside the mainstream mind or political debate.

It remains to be seen how this UN splash will speed up the Canadian progress on food waste

Oh, supermarkets, what are we going to do with you?

It seems you’re embroiled in a certain love-hate relationship with many of us.

Think of those farmers: they stock many of your vast shelves, yet often remain resentful for being squeezed. Or the upwardly-mobile, who slag you off in public, all while filling your coffers. Even food waste activists, perhaps your most virulent critics, have also been known to sing your praises.

However you slice it, dear supermarkets, it seems we just can’t take our eyes off of you.

Here in Canada, for example, you recently roused our spirits by bringing ugly fruit to your shelves, all while appropriating it as a new, cost-saving “brand” promising to quell food waste.

Meanwhile, in Denmark, you waded into the edible insect trade, only to pull them from the shelves two days later without telling us why.

In Alberta, you convinced the Blood Tribe of your merits, who hope to leverage your model on their land.

Yet this nagging question remains: do you really help us gain access to food? Or do you just stand in the way—-you big, boxy bully?

Over in the Bronx, a recent high-profile study seems to suggest the latter.

faced_products_on_a_supermarket_shelf1-e1427602450548

The NYU report investigated the effects of a 17 000 square foot Associated Foods supermarket in a known food desert, Morrisania, a neighbourhood with high rates of: “heart disease, obesity, diabetes…depression, infant mortality, mental illness and HIV…”

Its $1.1M 2010 opening costs were incentivized to the tune of $449 000 (about 40%).

However, the team reported no “significant changes in household food availability” to neighbourhood children, with an equal dearth of improved “dietary intake.” Don’t dismiss this as a one-off, supermarkets: the study’s vast sample size (about 2000 children) and lengthy duration (before, during and after the opening) suggest that even your government-fuelled spinoffs might fail to offer tangible benefit to those most in need.

Another recent article goes even further, claiming that you might be causing some of these problems to begin with.

In “Supermarkets are the problem,” Deborah A. Cohen at Slow Food USA surveys research on impulse purchases at the cash register alongside nefarious-sounding “slotting contracts” in your end-of-aisle displays. In a decisive verdict, she holds you structurally accountable for obesity and chronic disease.

Now listen up, supermarkets, because what I’m going to say might surprise you. I think we should cut you some slack.

First, determinist conclusions like the latter should be taken with a grain of your finest No Name salt.

It’s not only deceptive to pluck out and blame you from within a living, breathing, increasingly-complex wider food picture, it’s dangerous. By over-emphasizing government regulation as an ultimate cure, it effectively disempowers us everyday eaters of the education, choice, and agency we already possess—the type of things we really should be encouraged to strengthen.

If for no other reason than you’re not going anywhere soon, we’ve no doubt got a lot to negotiate.

Practically speaking, we all find ourselves in your aisles from time to time. Sometimes we’ve driven a long distance to greet you. Other times, we’ve just met you halfway.

Other times, for many of use, we just get squeezed for options and feel almost forced to wander your aisles. Yet rather than praying to be saved or averting our gaze, it would be better to simply open our eyes.

Back in January, I speculated that Canada’s world-leading habit of food waste might soon become too embarrassing to ignore. Following the (real) experts, I pointed towards supermarket waste reform in particular as a key to stemming this horrid tide.

It seems that last week, one food giant stepped up to the plate.

Well, sorta.

Though it didn’t touch on the waste problem directly, Loblaws announced that it will roll out the sale of blemished produce.

So, in what is perhaps a first for Canadian corporations, a supermarket giant acknowledged that un-cosmetic produce was actually fit for human consumption.

Sure, it’s a damn small victory. And despite the welcome news, Canada is a latecomer to the ugly fruit game as far as supermarkets go. UK chains began the practice in 2012, while France’s Intermarché giant scored a hit with their Inglorious vegetables campaign last year.

What’s more, if you’re reading Forget the Box, you probably get your fruit from farmer’s markets, “Good Food” boxes, overpriced épiceries, dépanneurs, or hell, any other store than a supermarket. So, you’ll probably be quick to chastise Loblaws that this particular brand of “responsibility” is about ten years too late.

Still, could it help our society, in some tiny way?

Let’s look at what we do know.

The Loblaws produce will come packaged under the label “Naturally Imperfect,” and will stand alongside its picture-perfect cousins, boasting near-equivalent taste. The brand will apply only to apples and potatoes at first, though others are said to be on the way.

Those deeply-discounted apples in the saran wrap (think pink 50% off sticker), will not be affected due to this change.

Rather, couched in packaging that hearkens back to their popular, 90s-era “Green” and “No Name” brands, the cut-rate, yellow-bagged produce will stand as its own brand, buffered by similar rhetoric that brought the latter to fame.

“If you were to grow produce in your backyard,” says Loblaws senior Director Dan Branson in the Financial Post, “there’s a lot that would grow that wouldn’t look as pretty as what you would see in a grocery store.”

He goes on, reminding us that even “Mother Nature doesn’t grow everything perfectly.”

You can almost feel the spirit of Arlene Zimmerman rising from this golden marketing-speak.

I imagine her leaping from her Dragon’s Den armchair, blemished McIntosh in hand, telling a would-be entrepeneur, “I’m in. Knotted, ugly vegetables are 100% on-trend.”

So while “Naturally Imperfect” promise a return to the mass market for tonnes of neglected apples and potatoes, it is also a new “product” in its own right.

The homely castaways seem expertly engineered to cash in on a portion of the market that—for some insane reason—other chains have been afraid to tap.

The product is already selling PR-wise. Loblaws’ official announcement last week was a runaway media success, with nearly every single mainstream news organizations picking up the press release—most funnelling it through largely untouched. Even hip restos got behind the announcement, sharing it in droves.

You have to wonder why an influential brand like Loblaws waited so long to cash in.

All hype aside, I truly do hope this will have some meaning.

Perhaps the trend will ripple through other chains.

Or, at the very least, perhaps a sheltered Canadian child might get to see what normal vegetables look like—possibly for the first time in their lives.

 

Another year, another round of increasing challenges–and opportunities–when it comes to feeding the world. Closer to home, we can see many of our most salient national issues (healthcare, climate change, aboriginal rights) refracted through the eye of a handful of food questions.

Food is just that: a flashpoint around which all else swirls. Here are a few simple food questions to keep tabs on this year. As you’ll see, they speak volumes on wider issues we face from sea to sea.

Can school lunches stem an obesity epidemic?

Though five provinces already offer lunch (or breakfast) programs, Canada’s one of the last holdouts among industrialized nations when it comes to a fully fleshed-out national program. It’s not just a question of quelling hunger. Could a properly-designed school lunch program help stamp out childhood obesity, thus reducing affiliated diseases and quashing healthcare costs?

A coalition of food organizations seems to think so. The proposal for a national program will be a bumpy ride, however: getting all provinces–and politicians–to agree on details, not to mention the parliamentary maneuvering needed to pass something of such magnitude.

Finnish_school_lunch

However, the longer a potential fight, the more hastily one should get in the ring so as to not avoid eventual burnout… as we learned from our neighbours to the South.

It’s up to us. What do we want our elected officials to focus on? Prevention? Exercise? Mental health? Could something like this help the next generation of Canadians enjoy a healthier childhood and a longer life?

Read an interview about it in the Tyee.

Canada: world’s biggest tossers?

That’s not a character judgement. I’m talking about household waste. We allegedly threw out the most garbage in the world per capita in 2013. We continue to be one of the planet’s most egregious food wasters, squandering enough to feed a small country. Or maybe a large one.

Discarded_bagels

There’s also that pesky issue of the emissions caused by moving around so much wasted food. Oh, and the $31B we’re flushing down the drain. How stupid. And sad. And avoidable.

If we don’t begin to turn this around quickly, the economic and environmental impacts may well see us drowning in our own waste. On a more hopeful note, campaigns like UK’S “Love Food, Hate Waste” are coming to our soil this year, and programs like Second Harvest are helping to make a difference. More is needed however.

Beyond handy checklists, we need to lobby lagging local governments (such as Montréal) to adopt compost pickup or to punish supermarkets or large restaurant chains for the added strains they are putting on the system.

Yet, if the real problem is with chains, how can we really stop them wasting so much food? We can’t. However, they can only waste food if they have customers to produce it for. Avoiding the big chains in favour of farm boxes, other delivery schemes, growing food in community garden plots, etc. are tiny ways to stem the flow.

Can we solve food insecurity in the North?

li-nunavut-food-protest-pangnirtung

A chronic problem, it’s one about to grow in 2015. With the population of places such as Iqaluit growing quickly, an already-difficult situation is being compounded by one of the youngest populations in the country. Less and less people are hunting. Food prices continue to spike and food banks can barely keep up.

Parliament exploded with this issue late in 2014 (after the UN got involved in 2012), yet very little action can be deciphered. Let’s hope 2015 sees that happen.

Follow this column for writing on food issues (and hopeful initiatives!) both in Montréal and worldwide.

For over eight weeks, photographer Robert Van Waarden travelled from Hardisty Alberta to Saint-John New Brunswick in order to talk with and photograph residents living along the projected path of TransCanada’s EnergyEast pipeline. He has chronicled his many stops and is now in the process of curating his images and short films for an upcoming travelling exhibit that will revisit the communities he visited along the pipeline’s route.

While travelling the country by car, he has witnessed first-hand the generosity and hospitality of countless Canadians. Van Waarden has been able to discuss at length with those who will bear the brunt of the risk if ever the pipeline is built, and says that the main concerns residents have with the project is water safety, spills and climate change. These are legitimate concerns.  Gaspé is fighting Petrolia over regulations that would protect the town’s drinking water from harm caused by hydraulic fracturing while in Alberta, the lakes surrounding the oil sands are being polluted at an alarming rate.

//www.youtube.com/embed/ccvD1Nx_hvA

TransCanada’s EnergyEast pipeline is slated to cross the Nipigon River which flows into Lake Superior, the world’s largest fresh-water lake that millions of Canadians and Americans rely on for drinking water.  Van Waarden interviewed Keith Hobbs, mayor of Thunder Bay and Chair of the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities, an opponent of  the EnergyEast pipeline.   

Despite environmental concerns, some see the pipeline as a positive economic force that will create jobs and stimulate Canada’s economy. Some figures seem to back them up: in the last year, nine out of ten new jobs in Canada were created in Alberta, and while countries across the globe still struggle to reboot their economy, Canada’s export markets has become an engine of growth.

Some people are ready to take on the immediate environmental risk to their community (let alone the global reach of tar-sands pollution) for the promise of some direct or trickle-down economic gain. It’s unfortunate that people are being put in this situation and that the discussion is constrained to tar-sand jobs vs. no jobs when in fact, green energy initiatives have the potential to create even more jobs , stimulate technological innovation and sustainable growth with less risk for both people and the environment.

Van Waarden also met with First Nations people who have opened their homes and hearts and shared their experience among them Kanesetake Grand Chief Serge Simon who discussed his community’s oppositions to the pipeline.

Along the Pipeline | Serge Simon, Grand Chief Kanesatake, Quebec from Robert van Waarden on Vimeo.

If First Nations have often been sidelined when it comes to natural resources development and extraction, the recent Supreme Court decision in favour of the Tsilhqot’in in British Columbia will no doubt shake things up a bit. Van Waarden says that the “First Nations could stop this pipeline and that they are taking it seriously. From what I have seen and heard they are going to be a force to reckon with.”

“We live in a beautiful country and there is an incredible amount of land and people that would be impacted by this pipeline. There are many strong voices and opinions in this country and the common thread throughout is that Canadians and First Nations are questioning the direction we are headed. It has been an honour to listen to and photograph so many diverse individuals and communities”

For more images and video, please visit link http://alongthepipeline.com

You may have heard of the controversies surrounding the Canada-US Keystone XL pipeline which would bring Alberta’s oil  all the way down to the Gulf Coast. The resistance to that project is fuelling the push to bypass the US and create a homegrown version, Trans Canada’s Energy East pipeline, whereby 1.1 million barrels a day of diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oil-sands would be pumped through 4600 kilometers of pipes; Canadian refineries in the east would then process it after which it will be exported abroad.

By allowing  this pipeline to pass through their lands, communities across the country will be supporting further development of Alberta’s oil-sands. Conversely Canadians, who may feel powerless against Alberta and our federal government’s pro-oilsands position, can now mobilize against the Energy East project and directly curb the expansion of the tar-sands.

robert van waarden serge simon

Joining his voice to the choir of activists is Canadian photographer Robert Van Waarden who is setting out on an eight-week Canada-wide journey to capture in words and on film the many faces of those who will live along the pipeline’s proposed route. For his Along the Pipeline project, Van Waarden will meet, discuss with, and photograph those who would shoulder the brunt of the risk associated with living in close proximity to the pipeline as well as those who may benefit from job opportunities it would create along the way (a claim challenged by major environmental groups).

We have all seen images of Alberta’s tar-sands intended to shock us into action and expose us to the reality of where the oil, that we all use on a daily basis, comes from. But these shock-and awe images are a double edged sword: we are simultaneously faced with the devastating environmental consequences of living in an oil-dependent society and dwarfed by the system that has consented to its destruction. The scale of the environmental degradation runs parallel to the economic and political power that allow the oil-sands to exist.

By focusing on the people directly affected by the pipeline, Van Waarden is seeking out “individuals working on change, pushing our world towards a more sustainable place [and whose] story is one of inspiration, empowerment and co-operation.” Since this mighty piece of privately-owned infrastructure will link people and communities on a national scale it seems worthwhile to understand what meanings this connection holds to those concerned. By humanizing those affected by the pipeline and highlighting the interconnectedness of the human experience,  the struggle becomes more relateable; as more pockets of resistance come to the surface, the challenge seems less herculean.

Forget The Box is pleased to follow Van Waarden as he travels across the country chronicling the stories of those affected by the Energy East pipeline. With preparations underway, Van Waarden is seeking help from the public to support his project though his indigogo crowdfunding initiative which comes to a close on April 6. Photographs and multimedia pieces will be published throughout his travels on his website and you can follow him via Twitter and Instagram.

robert van waarden bernard organic farmer

If VanWaarden is on a tight schedule, so too is TransCanada. They must file their project application by this summer, after which the National Energy Board has fifteen months to make a decision. Understandably, they are lobbying hard. Town meetings are sponsored all along the pipeline’s route to convince residents to not block their $12-billon project.

Here in Quebec, the Fédération québécoise des municipalités will gather its members in Drummondville on April 8 to discuss the impacts of the pipeline weighing envrionmental concerns with potential economic benefits. One look at the FQM meeting’s agenda and it becomes clear that TransCanada is targeting all political decision-makers and potential opponents with their lobbying efforts.

It’s not because we benefit from and are dependant on oil that we forfeit the right to object to the expansion of the oil-sands. Why do some people support the pipeline? What acts of resistance, large and small, are being carried out against it?

Through the medium of photography Van Waarden will contribute to the ongoing discussion and will capture not only what the Energy East project “means to this nation but what sort of community, country, and world we want to live in.”

Images courtesy of Robert Van Waarden. You can help make Along the Pipeline happen by donating to his crowdfunding campaign

 

 

This past Thursday and Friday, a wide range of accomplished doers and thinkers gathered for the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada and the University of Alberta’s Petrocultures Conference. Presentations took many interesting turns, from Brenda Longfellows’ interactive documentary Offshore to Lynn Millers’ discussion of how to save oil-soaked birds. Most presenters focused on the current and future state of Canada’s energy-producing resources as well as on the cultural, social, political and economic implications of shifting toward a sustainable green economy.

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Tzeporah Berman, the former co-director of Greenpeace International’s Global Climate and Energy Program, Executive Director and Co-founder of PowerUp Canada and Co-founder and Campaign Director of ForestEthics

For some, technology was advanced as the solution. Cenovus Energy, one of Canada’s “green” oil  companies sees technological solutions remedying the array of problems plaguing their industry, from reducing air-born pollutants to minimizing the impact of drilling by using helicopters to access remote wells.

For others, technology is no panacea. Darin Barney, Canada Research Chair in Technology & Citizenship at McGill instead sees politics as the arena where problems will be resolved. His talk focused on the prevailing discourse that  promotes oil-sands through a nationalist and especially a technological-nationalist discourse. Though this is viewed as a last resort strategy on the part of oil-advocates, appealing to nationalist sentiment nonetheless remains effective in quieting dissent and excluding alternative opinions by delegitimizing opponents as radicals and un-Canadian.

This nationalist veil also serves to mask the fact that, far from being a country-wide project benefiting all Canadians, it is the people who shoulder both the risks and costs while subsidies and profits flow directly into private coffers. Barney stated that while only 13% of oil reserves world-wide are privately owned, 51% of those are in Alberta.

Every year, oil industries benefit from over $1.4 billion in government subsidies. If you think this cash contributes to impressive job-creation stats you would be mistaken. Equiterre’s Steven Guilbeault stated that for every $1 million invested in the oil industry only 2 jobs are created, compared to 15 jobs in the green energy sector.

According to Tzeporah Berman, investing $1 million in any other sector yields more jobs than investing that same amount in Canada’s petroleum industry. Berman, a leading Canadian environmental activist, delivered one of the most memorable, informed and impassioned speeches reminding us that safety and health must trump the current trend of subsidies, production and pollution.  “We have a right to debate,” she said “and a right to the right debate.”

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Sun News’ Ezra Levant talking about “ethical oil” (image published over the objections of the author who thinks this man gets too much free publicity already)

Preceding Berman’s talk, Ezra Levant, our national court jester, appeared as his usual brash and boring self. While he was light on the reasoned argument front, he scored points nonetheless for giving the loudest speech (yet not loud enough to cover the audible derisive snickers from the audience). It was a wise decision on the part of the moderator to quash Levant’s question period; he was the only speaker to merit the distinction. Let’s give him another point for that too.

While Levant may have been the loudest, the students involved in Divest McGill were the most persistent. They came armed with relevant and hard-hitting questions, such as when Lily Schwarzbaum asked Gerald Butts, former President and CEO of WWF-Canada and current Trudeau advisor who also sits on McGill’s Board of Governors, why the university had not agreed to divest the $50 million it has invested in tar sands, fossil fuel and Quebec’s Plan Nord. He declined to answer, thus delivering a slap in the face to his fellow panellists and audience members who repeatedly called for more dialogue and openness throughout the conference.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking speech came from University of Alberta’s Imre Szeman who, echoing Mike Hulme’s Meet the Humanitiesadvocated for the inclusion of humanistic disciplines, the energy humanities, in discussing and solving the ongoing climate crisis. One of the main difficulties inherent in discussing pertrocultures is that we are all deeply imbedded in it; our daily lives are so dependant on energy that we have all become petro-subjects. Our identity and culture have developed in tandem with cheap available energy making it very difficult to untangle ourselves from that on which we have become so reliant. It has also made for easy targets; just think of when Al Gore was skewered because he would fly to speaking engagements.

The bright minds engaged in the energy humanities can help us conceptualize and move toward a viable “after-oil”  society that hard scientists, governments, and industries have been unable and unwilling to put forward. Part of the solution must involve the study of values, power, psychology, mobilities, meanings and institutions in order to finally get society to act on the mountain of facts about climate change it already possesses.

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Tenelle Starr ‘s controversial hoodie was one of the subjects discussed during Pretrocultures’ co-director, Sheena Wilson’s presentation

The Pertrocultures Conference may be perceived by some as a room full of white men, inherently conservative and exclusionary, and to some degree the accusation is warranted. Nonetheless, the conference brought together some of the smartest and most engaged players who both advocate for and act toward a cleaner and greener future. Hopefully new partnerships between allies were formed during this two-day event. Partnerships dedicated to bridging the chasm that currently exists between knowing and acting.

Perhaps the one line of thought all participants and attendees could agree on comes from Cenovus’ spokesperson: “The status quo is not acceptable.”

* photos by Jay Manafest, see the complete album on our Facebook Page

This week, the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada is partnering with the University of Alberta to host a two-day conference titled PetroCultures: Oil, Energy and Canada’s Future.

On Thursday and Friday, academics, industry, journalists and activists will gather to discuss and debate the social, cultural and political implications of Canada’s most controversial natural resource. Équiterre’s Steven Guilbeault will precede Sun New’s Ezra Levant while former Oilsands Developers Group Chair Ken Chapman will speak alongside lawyer Katherine Koostachin, specialist in Aboriginal, environmental and natural resource law.

The safety, health and environmental concerns surrounding the extraction and transportation of oil and gas has made for some bleak headlines these past few months. The Keystone XL pipeline project and the Lac Mégantic train disaster show the perils of having to move immense amounts of energy resources. Alberta’s landscape can attest to this and now we’re even talking about a Quebec petrol manifesto.

Conflicts over energy sources are of course not new; my generation grew up with wars being fought over the stuff. But with environmental disasters not only stemming from the production but also the use of fossil fuels, the repercussions go beyond our borders and are no longer a cause célèbre only for the left.

Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, one of the US’s top military officers, believes that climate change in the Asian-Pacific region poses the biggest long-term security threat to the area. Similarly, experts believe that sustained droughts exacerbated the underlying problems leading to Syria’s bloody civil-war.

Canada is not there yet, but our energy consumption and production habits are rightfully at the center of ongoing social debates.

Petrocultures 2014: Oil, Energy, and Canada’s Future runs Thursday and Friday at the McGill Faculty Club (3450 McTavish). For tickets and other information, see the Facebook event page or visit petrocultures.com

This week some political and economic heavyweights (B. Landry, M. Jérôme-Forget, J. Facal among others) came out with a pro-petrol manifesto titled Manifeste pour tirer profit collectivement de notre pétrole a distinctly Quebec version of the GOP’s Drill Baby Drill. Quebec needs money and we can get some by digging some homegrown oil, so this group claims. And when I say digging, I mean fracking.

And while the public is being subjected to this soft-ball persuasion, the Association pétrolière et gazière du Québec is actively lobbying the government to make sure it has a safe and well remunerated place in Quebec’s energy future.* Meanwhile, Petrolia (one of the major benefactors of this project) is trying to block municipalities from legislating against oil projects. Petrolia claims only the Province has that right.

The group behind the manifesto has been rebuffed in today’s Le Devoir by retired professor, engineer and geologist Marc Durand. Durand attacks their shoddy logic, limp sources, and their utter failure to grasp the economics behind the hypothetical venture.

Though brief, their argument is that oil exploration would enrich Quebec’s economic situation by “l’amélioration de notre balance commerciale” and by creating jobs. Note, that they did not say that Quebec would enrich its coffers by being in charge of the whole operation. Likely because the rights to the lands have already been sold to private petroleum companies.

The deal would see Hydro-Quebec profiting only after 10 million barrels of oil have been produced. And though there is said to be 30-40 billion barrels-worth underground, according to Durand, only about 1,2% of those could be extracted by wells. The monetary figures, as economic windfall for the state are all of a sudden much less rosy.

Even the document the Manifeste cites to argue for a positive commercial export/import rate in Quebec advances domestic oil exploration as the last and most controversial remedy. In fact, this HSBC document seems to advocate for a reduction in consumption (gasp) as an avenue to fix our commercial deficit.

As such, even if their manifesto opens with the good-old quiet revolution prayer and a nod to Hydro-Quebec, this venture is the antithesis of an economically (not to mention ecologically) sound projet de société.

* From the Registre des lobbyistes: Représenter les intérêts des membres de l’Association pétrolière et gazière du Québec auprès des différents titulaires de charge publique relativement à l’élaboration et la modification de dispositions législatives et réglementaires et orientations reliées aux hydrocarbures. Les représentations de l’Association visent notamment les amendements projetés à la Loi sur les mines et ses règlements, la nouvelle loi sur les hydrocarbures que projette d’adopter le gouvernement du Québec et la nouvelle stratégie énergétique du Québec, de sorte que ces dispositions législatives et réglementaires et orientations prévoient un régime de redevances compétitif pour les entreprises exploitant des hydrocarbures au Québec et des modalités favorisant le développement sécuritaire de l’industrie des hydrocarbures au Québec, dans le respect de l’environnement, et que les hydrocarbures occupent une place plus importante dans la nouvelle stratégie énergétique du Québec.

This post originally appeared on TaylorNoakes.com, republished with permission from the author

Everyone’s favourite evil multi-national corporation, British Petroleum (BP) has been given the green-light to dump large quantities of mercury directly into Lake Michigan, about 20 times over federal limits for the Great Lakes.

Now here’s where things get interesting (to me at least).

The Great Lakes empty into the Atlantic Ocean principally via the Saint Lawrence River.

To say we Montrealers get our drinking water from the Saint Lawrence is to say the very least; it further sustains the massive agricultural plain that Montreal happens to find itself in the middle of. In layman terms, it’s fucking important we don’t contaminate it anymore than it currently is.

I’d like to know the state of our water treatment plants. The recent city-wide boil water advisory lasted about a day and affected 1.3 of Montreal’s 1.8 million residents. It was caused by routine maintenance.

Sediment was stirred up from the bottom of the Atwater Treatment Plant when water levels unexpectedly dropped by a considerable degree. It took officials a day to figure out what happened, though in the end they realized there was no danger of contamination.

That was over a month ago – I still have too much bottled water.

Generally speaking we don’t have much in the way of water problems: occasional boil water advisories and seasonal watering bans happen and it’s impossible to completely get away from this. But we also know that most of our water and sewerage pipes are old, very old in fact, and have been known to burst, rather dramatically, in wintertime. Not to mention the fact that we have to use large amounts of chlorine to treat our water, all the while dumping raw sewerage back into the river.

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With all this mind, it seems that we have managed to figure out a solution to a problem we’re contributing to, but with an infrastructure that might not be able to handle any new problems. Like contamination by mercury, or worse, heavy crude from Western Canada.

Mercury contamination led to birth defects amongst the James Bay Cree (not to mention the highest mercury rates amongst a First Nations community) as a consequence of the flooding of 11 000 square kilometers of the Taiga.

And consider the kind of damage that could occur with a burst pipeline anywhere in the Greater Montreal region: it’s not just the contaminated soil, but the potential for contamination of our aquifer and all the numerous waterways all around us. We’re on an island after all.

It’s a difficult situation; we would doubtless benefit from Western Canadian oil flowing to our city. It could result in the redevelopment of the East End refineries, not to mention likely result in improvements and the potential aggrandizement of our port facilities. And all of this means more jobs and money.

But private interests simply can’t be trusted to develop fail-safe pipelines. All too often they bend and break environmental rules to cut overhead costs.

And any new potential industrial development throughout the Great Lakes region bears with it the potential for new environmental dangers. Some of these problems are completely out of our control, such as the State of Indiana authorizing massive dumps of mercury into Lake Michigan.

But there are local measures that could be taken to dramatically improve the quality and durability of our water treatment and water distribution systems, not to mention the natural aquifer.

There’s an interesting intersection between natural water treatment and the maintenance and development of green spaces. Consider, as an example, Riparian buffers, which use ‘forested waterways’ to provide naturally treated water into agricultural lands (the presence of so much green also shades the water to reduce natural water evaporation. Natural beaches and swamps can further assist in natural water treatment.

Up until now I feel we’ve benefitted from these natural methods without doing much, if anything, to stimulate them. We’d be wise to consider the biological, as well as mechanical means to treat and distribute water systems throughout the metropolitan region.

But despite the universal necessity of water, our North American ways have made it that few politicians could successfully campaign on a ‘clean water’ platform without being uselessly labelled a environmentalist fringe candidate. We think water pollution is something that either happens in a developing country, or else happened here many moons ago.

Besides, you can buy bottled water anywhere, right?

 

This post originally appeared on QuietMike.org, republished with permission from the author

canada_harper_3_14_2012It’s bad enough with all the scientific proof to the contrary that we still have climate change deniers in Canada, but I would argue having one of them as our Prime Minister makes it exponentially worse.

Now, I know Stephen Harper has never come out publicly and denied the existence of climate change; he doesn’t need to, his actions have spoken for him. After playing the common Canadian voter for fools for five years as a minority government, the veil has come off to reveal what Harper really thinks of the environment we all share.

Canadian voters who didn’t know any better might not have clued in to the big picture, but the signs were there. During his first minority run starting in 2006, Harper pretended to give a damn, albeit very little.

In 2006 the Conservatives introduced the Clean Air Act. The act was supposed to cut greenhouse gasses by about half of the 2003 levels by 2050. Environmentalists claimed these targets were inefficient, but the Prime Minister convinced Canadians that these targets were a more realistic than the ones set out in the Kyoto Protocol.

With the exception of Rona Ambrose, the Prime Minister appointed seemingly competent MPs to the Environment Minister post. By competent, I mean John Baird and Jim Prentice kept their mouths shut as much as possible.

For the following five years the Tories were kept in check by the Liberals and NDP and remained fairly silent on the issues of climate change. Some comments were made accidentally with the slipping of some Tory tongues and Harper himself called Kyoto a “socialist scheme” but by the time the election of 2011 came around they were all long forgotten.

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When Harper gained his majority (with less than 40% of the vote), the curtain came down and the assault began. In the last two years Harper has been doing everything he can to reverse environmental protections and hide climate science.

No one was really surprised when he started by withdrawing Canada from the Kyoto Protocol, but the Prime Minister didn’t replace it with anything. The Clean Air Act Conservatives introduced in his first term was reduced to nothing as they lowered its targets by as much as 90%.

Harper named ex-journalist Peter Kent as the new environment minister. Kent seemed to care about the environment thirty years ago, but these days his decisions have come from an economic view rather than an environmental one.

The first Conservative Budget under a majority slashed Environment Canada’s budget by $53.8 million a year. The Conservatives scrapped the National Round-table on the Environment and Economy, a group that provides advice on the environment.

At the same time, they moved to fast track the current process for the environmental assessment of resource-based projects. In addition, they have made it more difficult for charities, such as environmental groups, to engage in so-called political activities. To sum it up: no talking, no protesting and more digging.

Harper has also started to silence Canadian scientists. He has instructed Environment Canada to forbid federal scientists from speaking to the media and has defunded or threatened to defund those who do. It wasn’t long ago when we encouraged our scientists to speak out in order to know where the problems were.

Muzzle

Last year, the Prime Minister stopped funding the Environmental Lakes Area, the famous fresh water research facility. The pioneering Canadian contribution to global environmental science was instrumental in the fight against acid rain and has studied water pollution for 40 years. The funding was expected to run dry on March 31st 2013. The savings to Canadians is a mere $2 million, a tiny drop of clean water in the bucket.

Lately you may have heard about the 194 countries around the world that supports the United Nations anti-drought convention. Well that number has been reduced by one as the Conservative government of Canada has decided to withdraw from it. Conservatives claimed only 18% of funds go toward drought research and called the process a “talk fest.” Canada spent $291 000 on the convention last year, a grain of sand in the desert.

In the meantime, while Harper has turned his back on global warming and environmental science, he has continued to expand fossil fuel development across the country. “Over the next decade, more than 500 large new development projects will be proposed across the country, representing investments worth more than $500 billion” Harper said. I would imagine they’ll still be getting the same tax breaks they receive now.

The Prime Minister’s disdain for the environment is now known worldwide and he may end up shooting himself in the foot with his policies. Harper has been pressing US President Barack Obama to OK the Keystone XL Pipeline for years now and it’s not crazy to think Obama may reject it again for not wanting to be associated with him. After all, the US is awash with oil and gas these days.

Harper’s policies were adopted from the American conservative philosophy that small government is what’s best for the people. He believes the environment is not the responsibility of the federal government. However, by not taking steps to protect it, they are helping to destroy it instead.

The Prime Minister and his Conservative Party have been exposed as the anti-climate change party they are and it’s showing in the polls. Let’s hope that when Canadians vote again in a couple years that Idle No More, Canadian scientists and environmentalists don’t let the people forget.

Doing nothing to prevent climate change is the same as not believing in it.

Not since Confederation has a nation-building project determined so much of Canada’s future, divided Canadians and equaled the endeavor of CP Rail, than Alberta pipelines. Several projects have been proposed but nothing perhaps more politically contentious than the Keystone XL, which would run pipelines from Alberta to parts of central United States. While Northern Gateway would transport bitumen from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia and then ship it to Asian markets.

Canadians must decide whether it would be better off becoming gas station of the world or global leaders combating climate change. Petroleum is a dangerous market and there are potential socio-economic and environmental risks facing Canadians. Outside factors are influencing whether Canada takes on those risks.

Despite some financialists, think-tanks and environmental expert warnings, PM Stephen Harper has vowed continuing support for Canada’s future in crude oil. Consequently, Conservatives have enforced gag orders on climate change scientists from speaking to the media and further removed environmental protections through Bill C-45, opposed by Idle No More.

Harper would ensure risks of environmental catastrophes from pipeline projects including clear-cut forests, depleted wildlife and risks of oil spillage into nearby bodies of water, poisoning communities. Even the most optimistic pipeline job projections, according to Cornell University, appear to be pipedreams. 85 to 90% of the people hired to do the work would be non-local and predominately temporary workers.

Oil venture in Canada is also up against time and technology. There is the impending deadline of Congress facing President Barrack Obama on whether to approve Keystone. If Obama rejects the deal, Canada would scrap Endbridge. There is also the rapid pace of American petroleum technology innovations.

Obama will likely announce a national synthetic oil technology policy. Synthetic oil is a greener, cheaper technology which could be harnessed in the United States. Its production utilizes a combination of non-food crops, natural gas and coal. The result of which is a much more sleeker and finer product.

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Princeton University concluded it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% if non-food crops are used to produce that fuel. A national program would require further assessments and thereby extend Keystone’s deadline further down the road, effectively putting Alberta’s already uncertain future in the cruder, harsher tar sand oil in the stone ages with the dinosaurs.

This is the likely reason why Obama neglected to mention Keystone in his State of the Union address. Instead, the president emphasized cutting climate change, harkening back to his 2008 campaign promise to achieve American energy independence within ten years. All signs appear to point in this direction with John Kerry’s appointment to Secretary of State, Kerry being the most outspoken Democrat on tackling climate change.

Should American backing fall through, Alberta should not rely on its Chinese state-owned oil partner, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), to be its safety net. A Chinese ambassador to Canada has revealed that Beijing would not wait on Canada if Alberta-BC issues are not resolved in a timely manner.

Alberta oil is only lucrative to Chinese investors so long as it will have pipeline clients. Alberta currently trades at a $40 discount per barrel of oil to the US. Since there are no pipelines to cancel out high transport costs to distant clients this is done to maintain interest. This means negative dividend returns for Alberta.

Currently, Premier Alison Redford’s government is bleeding $6 billion. China is only willing to cover the cost of cargo shipments to keep Alberta oil afloat until Canada could find other larger markets to invest in pipelines. BC’s blockade of Alberta’s Gateway deal would deny access to Asian markets. A ThreeHundredEight poll suggests a BC NDP victory this May with leader Adrian Dix promising to kill Northern Gateway. Northern Gateway is expected to be complete by 2017 or 2019.

Although Canada may be a politically stable source of oil, China could secure its oil supply by other means. China could diversify its clients while further weaning itself off of dirty oil towards sustainable energies. Unlike Washington, Beijing is not beholden to whomever it does business with. This ensures China’s access to petroleum could come from multiple markets.

Bottom line, Canadians could see themselves sitting on surplus black gold sold at red dot prices. In the end, Canada could be left holding the bag. Not quite the Dutch Disease prophesy, but still a crude awakening for Canadians.

Some may see the growing Idle No More movement as simply an aboriginal issue, but in truth it is also a stand against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s environmental policies. The movement was born in Saskatchewan by four women complaining about bill C-45, the Conservative’s second omnibus budget bill that threatens existing First Nation treaties.

These four women started organizing events throughout Saskatchewan culminating in a national day of action across Canada. It was on that day of action that Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario announced in Ottawa that she would be starting a hunger strike. The strike has garnered national attention and has helped to push the protest movement to the forefront of news cycles. Spence has survived solely on tea and fish broth and the hunger strike is now entering a fifth consecutive week.

If you wanted to find the crux of the protests you could undoubtedly go back centuries, but I believe that the real heart of the problem may lie in the Conservative’s failure to pass the Kelowna Accord. The Kelowna Accord was a series of agreements between the Government of Canada (led then by Prime Minister Paul Martin), Provincial Premiers and five national aboriginal organizations.

The Accord was a five billion dollar plan to improve the education, employment and living conditions for First Nation people. Stephen Harper who was elected soon after the agreement was made, quietly disposed of it. Following his defeat, Paul Martin introduced a private members bill to ensure the agreement was implemented, but in 2007 the Conservative Party voted against it and didn’t try to replace it with anything.

2013_01_02_idlenomorehuffpoThe problematic truth of the aboriginal situation in Canada is that many first nation communities across the country look more like third world countries. Many don’t have basic grade schools, proper housing or even clean drinking water. Unemployment is also extremely high and substance abuse is rampant. I can’t understand why any Canadian would tolerate how we treat the original Canadians of this country.

I’m sure these issues are in the backs of the minds of the Idle No More Movement, but like I said before the main sticking point was bill C-45. This Conservative Government Budget Bill actually changed the legislation contained in 64 existing acts and regulations including the Indian Act, the Navigation Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act.

The changes to the Indian Act (done without the approval of first nation communities) effectively streamline’s the designation of First Nation land for leasing. Previously, if corporate interests wanted to lease land on a reserve it would have required the majority vote of all those on the reserve. Now it requires just those who attend the meeting about the lease. This can open the door to bribery, corruption and leave thousands without a say on who occupies their land. Also, during negotiations the Aboriginal Affairs minister can ignore a resolution from the reserve’s council that opposes a decision at the meeting.

The Navigation Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act are the other two sore points for the Idle No More movement. Both could have a profound impact on Canada’s environment and should be of concern to all Canadians.

The Navigation Protection Act removes a requirement for major pipeline and power line project backers to prove their development plan won’t damage or destroy the waterway it crosses. This means that even the most incompetent energy companies can get their projects approved. These companies could still be sued if something goes wrong, but by then the damage will have been done. The act effectively removes protection for 99.9 percent of our lakes and rivers.

The Environmental Assessment Act was first implemented back in 1992. It required federal departments, including Environment Canada, to conduct environmental assessments for proposed projects that involves federal funding, permits, or licensing. In 2012 the Conservative Government repealed and re-wrote the law to the point where the name itself has lost all meaning.

The new version no longer requires environmental assessments of projects proposed or regulated by the federal government unless the Environment Minister demands it. By design, the current post belongs to Conservative Peter Kent who is more business friendly than environmentally friendly.

Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence - Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence on Dec. 6 Sean Kilpatrick/CP

I find it awe-inspiring to know that despite the awful living conditions on some First Nation reserves, many of the people who live there are still more concerned with our environment. The same environment we’ve been destroying since we took their land all those years ago.

Prime Minister Harper for his part finally decided to meet with Theresa Spence and other First Nation Leaders in the coming days. Hopefully for everyone’s sake, it won’t be a simple lip service from Harper. Keep in mind that Idle No More is a grass roots movement just like the carre rouge in Quebec or the Occupy Movement that preceded it. Idle No More doesn’t need to answer to anyone and like their name suggests, they won’t be going away until substantial change is seen.

I’m sorry to inform everyone that this will be my last Quiet Mike’s Mumblings article for Forget the Box. While I might continue to contribute periodically, I have decided to put most of my energy into my own site quietmike.org. I would like to take this occasion to thank Jason, Chris and the rest of the Forget the Box family for helping me get started and giving me an audience for over two and a half years.

It has been a pleasure writing for you and I implore everyone who routinely read my column to keep visiting the site. Forget the Box is without a doubt the best blog in the great city of Montreal. Thanks everyone… for everything.